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U.S. is failing to cut lead in children’s jewelry

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WASHINGTON — Despite a two-year effort to eliminate the threat of poisonous lead in inexpensive children’s jewelry, hundreds of thousands of tainted items still are being sold across the United States, the federal government has found.

(New York Times News Service) WASHINGTON — Despite a two-year effort to eliminate the threat of poisonous lead in inexpensive children’s jewelry, hundreds of thousands of tainted items still are being sold across the United States, the federal government has found.

Inspections by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of 85 pieces of jewelry collected since last fall from retailers and importers determined that 20 percent still posed a potential poisoning hazard. Separate surveys by health officials or lead experts in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland found even higher percentages.{mxc}

The unannounced federal inspections also left no doubt about the primary source of the threat: Of the 17.9 million pieces of jewelry items pulled from the market since the start of 2005, 95 percent were made in China.

Federal officials say they have made progress in curtailing the lead threat in children’s jewelry, but that they need more enforcement powers, like the ability to impose fines or even criminal charges against repeat offenders.

The hazardous jewelry has been brought onto the market by big-name outfits like Mattel, Juicy Couture and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, which included 746,621 lead-contaminated "bonus charms" in a Shirley Temple movie package. But scores of small importers like Really Useful Products, a company with six employees based in Darien, Ill., also delivered children’s jewelry to national retailers with dangerous levels of lead.

Internal company and government documents released to The New York Times last week by the federal consumer protection agency, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, detail the recent crackdown.

The importers, in the commission’s documents, often assert that their contracts prohibit jewelry with elevated levels of lead. But by failing to test a large enough sample of the delivered goods these companies still ended up selling hazardous products, the documents show.

Jewelry is perhaps the most dangerous place for lead because children can swallow an entire ring or pendant, causing acute poisoning, which can cause respiratory failure, seizures and even death.

After a series of high-profile recalls in 2006 the commission last fall began to send a team of investigators out to companies that import or sell children’s jewelry.

Inspectors collected and tested samples — finding lead problems one out of five times, confirming the similar recent surveys by health officials and children’s advocates in Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio, which found lead contamination in children’s jewelry as often as 40 percent of the time. Based on these tests, one federal official said it was fair to estimate that the number of contaminated children’s jewelry items on the market remains in the hundreds of thousands.

 

 

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